An American track and field sprinter who competed in the 100 and 200 meters dash, Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born prematurely June 23, 1940.
Rudolph contracted infantile paralysis, which was caused by the polio virus, at age 4. She wore a brace on her left leg and foot until she was 9 and had to wear an orthopedic shoe until 11. She also survived a bout of scarlet fever.
She followed in her sister’s footsteps and played basketball. She joined Ed Temple’s summer program at Tennessee State and raced with his Tingerbelles for two years.
In the 1960s, she was known as the fastest woman in the world, competing in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.
Rudolph won an Olympic bronze medal in the 4 x 100 m relay in the 1956 Melbourne Games. She followed that up with a gold medal in 4 x 100 m relay at the Pan American Games in 1959. She also nabbed an individual silver in the 100 m. Rudolph also won the AAU 100 m title, defending it for four consecutive years. She also won three AAU indoor titles.
Rudolph won three Olympic sprint gold medals on a cinder track at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
Rudolph returned home to Clarksville after the game. The subsequent homecoming parade and banquet were the first fully integrated municipal events in the city’s history at Rudolph’s behest.
She retired at age 22 in 1962 from track competition.
Rudolph is widely regarded as the person to elevate women’s track to a major presence in the United States. She was also a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer.
She died of cancer at age 54 in 1994.